Sunday, December 4, 2011

My shoulders hurt: Ow! Ow!

Edited to add: Never, never will I be this lady. I know this. It's just that a writer is simply a reader who has been moved to emulation (thanks for the quote, Saul Bellow!). 

To continue:

I went for a massage last week and experienced my usual mixed-emotions massage experience. This is because massage always feels so amazing, but there's a usually a blow to my self-esteem after the massage, when the masseuse makes some sort of comment. 

To wit: once, after what I thought was a relaxing hour of massage from which I emerged blissfully soup-like, the masseuse said to me, "Um, so future? You could, like, learn to relax your body?" 


I really didn't think anything could top that experience, but after last week's massage -- I'd told the masseuse to concentrate on my shoulders but to do full-body -- she said, "Sorry I didn't get to your whole body, but your shoulders sure are tight! Those knots--man." 

"Yeah," I said "pretty tight, I know." 

"So, do you, like, stretch at all?"  

[My feelings here are a bit hurt] "Um, yeah. Actually, I do a lot of yoga." 

[Visible surprise] "Oh. Oh, okay. It's just--wow, I've never felt knots that tight." 

"Believe it or not, they're not as tight as they used to be. Yoga, and I've recently gotten some acupuncture on my shoulders, too." 

[More visible surprise/disbelief.] "Uh-huh. Look, here are some shoulders stretches, anyway, just because. I know you say--but just try them. And here's my card. Honestly, I'd love to work on you. Your shoulders are just so--I mean, it's really good. For me, I mean, not you. It's a challenge." 

Le sigh. 

Sometimes I get frustrated. I feel like I try and work on myself. I do yoga. I've gotten a little bit of physical therapy for my TMJ/shoulder. I have a heat pack. I got some acupuncture. I'm trying massage. And still--it's the same Wow what the crap is up with your body why does it not move

There's a pretty simple explanation, which is that I have scoliosis. In brief, here's is a normal spine: 

Here's a spine with scoliosis: 

My curve is, somewhat unusually, in the lower spine. However, I exhibit pretty typical scoliotic posture: 

Especially if your lower spine is weak, your shoulders are going to hunch forward. So: tension in shoulders. It doesn't help that all through middle school and high school, I insisted on carrying my backpack on only my right shoulder. I would also always stuff my backpack too full of books. 

This continued on into graduate school, where I carried around a large shoulder bag on one shoulder: 

Sometimes I still carried around an enormous backpack, to be honest
The result of all this is naturally: 

Various things have helped over the years. I've stopped carrying around backpacks and shoulder bags -- tote bags, held in one hand! Leave your poor shoulders alone! AND YOU DO NOT NEED TO CARRY ALL OF YOUR BOOKS AROUND AT ONCE. 

I've started doing yoga and although I've done it for many years now, some of the basic postures are still pretty humbling: 

Don't get me wrong, I'm quite happy I never got the scoliosis fixed. Here are some typical options

The one suggested for me was this: 

Wilmington Brace, a total-contact orthosis typically fabricated from a lightweight plastic material and designed as a "body jacket," with a front closure and adjustable Velcro straps.
I already had glasses, braces, and carried around an enormous backpack full of books. I was pretty happy when they decided not to add a full-body plastic jacket into the mix. 

And my various therapies have helped. Yoga is awesome. As is acupuncture. As are heat packs. As is physical therapy. As is massage, even if the masseuses can get all judge-y. I no longer have a constant ache-y pain in my right shoulder, which I once thought I'd just have to live with. My posture is better. 

But damnit, progress is slow. I can do this posture and this posture, but I still can't bend forward and touch my toes without bending my knees. Sometimes I get very frustrated with my body, with its weird curves and intense patterns of achey tightness. But that's one thing I like about yoga: the attitude of non-striving, of just doing the best you can in the position that you're in, not forcing your body to do more than it can at that moment -- challenging yourself to work with what you've got. And, strangely, that very attitude of non-striving allows you to do shit that you'd never believe, if you stick with it. Non-bend-y-to-the-extreme me can balance and bend in ways I'd once have never imagined. Even if I still can't touch my toes. 

And that's why I get so frustrated with masseuses who take the attitude of "What is wrong with you? God, your shoulders!" We can't all magically become relaxed, knot-free people. Some of those knots run deep, yo. I've been developing them since middle school. It's gonna take some time. We can only work with what we've got.


Nikki Van De Car said...

I know this is persnickety, but maybe try going to a scoliosis specialist massage person? They may not be any better at what they do, but at least then they won't be all mean. Or at least tell the masseuse what's up going in so you don't get your feelings hurt. Because really, nothing is less relaxing than being told you're tense.

Easy O said...

True dat. The next massage I got I made a big speech about tense shoulders/scoliosis/previous massage experience and there was no shock and awe speech after. I wonder if there are scoliosis specialist massages? There must be! I know there is special yoga.

Unknown said...

I have scoliosis too. It's mild, upper lumbar. I took jazz for a PE credit in college and spent the semester getting yelled at because I couldn't flatten out my back. Ten years into my yoga practice I could finally touch my toes. Keep practicing acceptance and move from where you are. And thanks for the link to my blog!

Easy O said...

That's awesome to hear -- thanks! I have high hopes -- and it is annoying when people act as if straightening your spine were a mere act of will that can be fixed in a moment! It takes time.